Business class on Ethopian Airline Douglas DC-3, scheduled to leave for Luanda at 9:40 that night, was scanty. 22-year-old Nancy Uzoma sat at seat 13B; she had her tray table stashed under the seat in front of her, chair sat upright and carry-on bag gently stowed in the compartment overhead. She had the window seat, where she could savour each passing object obscured in nocturnal embrace when the plane finally took off. For company, she had a fine array of chairs, some magazines, a guidebook, and a grey-haired couple–who were whispering comfortably to each other–occupying a pair of the fine fur-coated set. A tour guide, she travelled often, averaging close to a hundred explorative tours each year that required her to cruise around and beyond West Africa, and less frequently, the 10/40 window; the Kathmandu Dubar Square of Nepal; the Chinguetti Mosque of Mauritania; the Bahia Palace of Morocco; and the Silver Pagoda of Cambodia, a country still recovering from Khmer Rouge’s terror reign.
But the trip this time was different, and it seemed the more she tried not to think about it, the more attached she became to the odds of what she was getting into. A decision she made; a decision she was wistfully beginning to get unsure of; a decision bound to break someone’s heart, just as it was breaking hers.
Seun, right from high school, had always been both the classmate only whose grades rivalled hers and the one to whom she readily ran when she felt insecure or a bit over the fringe. High school passed, but nothing of their familiarity did. By orchestration, the University of Benin came to be where they’d both study and graduate; she, Agriculture, he, Literature. There were days when, under the thick shade of the cackling tree, among the whisper of soft breeze, his voice would penetrate the silence of dusk and the noise within her, reeking of favourable poetry, and speaking of love with suggestive reserve. And there were other days when she’d just pause to stare at him, watching him smile from afar when she thought she wouldn’t get caught, wishing he’d proceed and propose, and place her in his arms under the watch of a starry night. Forever. And ever.
She waited with all she had, but the proposal hadn’t come until they’d graduated.
The captain’s voice crackled over the speaker, announcing that they were next in flight. Nancy noticed he had a sexy, alluring voice, much like Seun, and she smiled at the memory of how much she’d wanted to tease him by saying no when he’d proposed in that alluring voice a little over a year ago.
The smile disappeared into a thin line five seconds later when, at her reflection in the window, she saw a hint of her father in her pointed nose, bony cheeks, and large eyes. She tore her gaze from the window and stared at the guidebook sitting on her laps instead.
Yet, all she saw was the face of her father, the demon of her hope.
Nancy always doubted if her father ever knew to love— especially after her mother had to endure been at the receiving end of his fists in the latter years of their marriage—and he’d confirmed her doubts in the past week.
The call had came when she was just exiting the grocery store. The caller, one Mr. Ifeanyi Martins, had explained that ‘one tall, black, heavily built man’ had been found on the open road with a bullet lodged in his left shoulder. The comprehension was instant. The ‘tall, black, heavily built man’ description alone had had her heart thumping against her ribcage, and with the thought of her losing Seun came an even deadlier thought.
Her father’s warning.
While their admission into the same higher institution was nothing of a coincidence, Seun’s deployment into Anambra–the same state as her–for youth service was purely fate at work. She remembered the first time Seun had visited, at her family get-together, even though he’d balked at her invitation. Her father had scowled at his first words, picking out his Yoruba accent as his reason for disapproval later that night when Seun had left. Emphasizing that the Yorubas weren’t the ingrained traitors he always called them each time she pled that he looked beyond the tribal umbrella, she never could have guessed that her father’s preventative disapproval would have escalated to this:
Seun shot in the shoulders for the second time in six months–the first one the right, the second on the left–and left to die on the open road. When her father had said he’d ‘put the traitor through hell’ if she didn’t cancel their relationship, she’d only thought it angry thinking on his part. Something that’d eventually pass.
Unfortunately, it didn’t, and so here she was, about to head to the heart of Angola, striking her revenge in the subtle way she could think up by making her father miss her, scour the country for her, and when he wouldn’t find her, cry his heart out, and preferably, hang himself.
There was a rumble from the base of the craft and felt the plane begin to move along the accessway. With a short jerk of her head, she turned to stare into the blanket of darkness below, hoping to see a tall, black, heavily built man waving at her to return, to not break his heart, their pact. A tear warmed her cheeks at the vanity of her wish.
She hadn’t waited for Seun to recover from the bullet wound before leaving a letter by his bedside, after she was certain he’d survive, and another letter at the office desk of her Managing Director.
In the letter, she’d told him where he could find her, and she had also suggested, quite insincerely, that he’d be more safe if he forgot her.
In no time, the airplane was up in the sky, raindrops drumming on its sides, the city she grew up in a far spectacle, filling her heart with an overwhelming sadness and her head with a throbbing ache.
Slowly, the guidebook slipped from her grasp, and she began to give in to jet-lag.
She only hoped that by dawn, she would be clear enough in the head to consider returning. Or running farther and saving Seun’s life.
Even if it breaks her heart.